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Full text of "A discourse on the life and character of the Hon. George Mathews"

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"^3 DISCOURSE 

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I** 

LATE PRESIDING JUDGE 

OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA. 



BY THE HON. CHARLES WATTS, 

AT THE REQUEST OF THE MEMBERS OP THE BAR OP NEW-ORLEANS. 



F'lilNTKD DY BENJAMIN LK\Y 
(• II A R T i: K S ST R n F, T. 

1837. 



^- - - -^ 



DISCOURSE 



LITE AND CHARACTER 



LATE PRESIDING JUDGE 

OF THK SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF LOUISUNA. 



BY THE HON. CHARLES WATTS, 



AT THE REQUEST OF THE MEMiiEIlS OF THK i'.AR OF : 




■Ncto-(!I>rlcans : 

PRINTED BY BENJAMIN LEVY, 
CIIARTRES-8TUEET. 

1837. 



^* 






fWPXED 



A 



DISCOURSE 



LIFE AND CHARACTER 



HON. GEORGE MATHEWS 



nUETHREX OF THE U\U, 

AM) rEI.I.OW-ClT-IZEXS OF LOUISIANA: 

Upon the decease of any person of note, it was a custom 
among- the ancient Eg^'ptians, to institute an investigation into the 
life and character of the deceased, and to pass a sentence of censure 
or approbation, according as he merited it, in relation to his public 
and private life. 

It may be considered as an emanation of this popular feeling, 
that at the present day, on the decease of any man who has deserved 
well of his fellow-citizens, they call for a review of his life and 
character. 

As funeral rights to the body assuage the grief, and gratify the 
affections of the relations and friends of a private person, so the pub- 
lic expression of the sentiments of respect, and veneration for the 
character of a man whose departure from life is felt as a public loss, 
and an analysis of the traits and qualities which called forth public 
esteem, is a discharge of some portion of the debt of public grati- 
tude, and is an incentive to tlie honorable ambition of those whose 
Uiinds are so constituted as to find more happiness and satisfaction in 
serving their fellow-citizens, than in the attainment of objects of a 
private and persniial nature. 



To this source, I trace the resokition adopted at a meeting of the 
brethren in the profession of the late Judge Mathews, in pursuance 
Avhereof we are now assembled, and in compliance with which, I 
shall proceed to lay before you such reflections on his life and cha- 
racter as suggest themselves to me. A deep participation in the 
general sentiment is all the qualification I possess for the trust as- 
signed me, and I must crave your indulgence, if the pressing nature 
of my daily avocations, has left me insufficient leisure to do justice 
to the honor conferred on me, and to a full and minute delineation of 
the character, conduct and life of a man so eminent, and who received 
so large a tribute of the public esteem and veneration. 

The most natural introduction to what I have to say on the life 
and character of Judge Mathews, will be to lay before you such 
particulars of his parentage, early life and private fortunes as on 
inquiry I have been able to procure. 

The subject of our discourse was bom on the 21st September, 
1774, a few miles below Staunton, in Augusta County, State of 
Virginia. 

At the time of his birth, his father was absent on that memorable 
expedition which was terminated by the battle at the mouth of the 
Great Kenhawa, on the 10th October, of the same year. He was 
called George, (the name of his father) by liis mother, who doubted 
the return of her husband. 

From his birth until the age of ten years, all the education and 
instruction he received, was from his mother, a lady distinguished 
for her excellent mind and other qualities — his father being absent 
the greatest portion of that time in the service of his country. 

In the year 1785, the father of Judge Mathews removed to the 
State of Georgia with liis family, and settled in what was then called 
Wilkes County, afterwards called Oglethorp, on Broad River, at a 
place known as the Goose Ponds, at that time on the frontiers of 
Georgia, where George Mathews remained until the year 1792, 
receiving only such mstruction as frontier counties at that period 
afforded. 

In the year 1792, in the eighteenth year of his age, he returned to 
Virginia, and in 1794 became a member of an academy known as 
Liberty Hall, in the town of Lexington, Rockbridge county, where. 



iliiriii^ tlio yoars 1791-95, he finished hijs course of academical 
studies. 

Ill 179G, being- then twenty-two years of age. he relumed to 
(jieurgia, and commenced the study of the law with his eldest 
brother, Jolm Mathews, with whom he continued until the year 
I J98. In that year he went to the city of Augusta, and finished his 
law studies with George Walker, one of the most eminent lawyers 
ill the State* 

III the year 1799, in his twenty-filth year, he was admitted to the 
bar, and continued the practice of law from tliat time until the year 
1805, when, without any solicitation on his part, he was appointed 
by Thomas Jefferson, Judge of the territory of Mississippi. From 
thence he was transferred to the territory of Orleans in 180G, and on 
the erection of Louisiana into a State in 181 2, he was appointed by 
Governor Claiborne, Judge of the Supreme Court of the State of 
Louisiana, and shortly afterwaras, by the resignation of Judge Hall, 
took the place of presiding judge. This station he filled till his 
decease on the lOth November, 183G, in the sixty-third year of his 
age. 

Judge Mathews greatly attributed the formation of his character 
and his success in life to the high intelligence and excellent qualities 
of his mother, and the education and instruction he received from 
her — and how many distinguished men, among Avhom may be 
named Washington and Napoleon, have expressed the most tender 
gratitude for the influence and benefits of the maternal culture of 
their minds and formation of their character. 

Tlie prize for the best essay on morals, was lately well bestowed 
in France on the production of Martin, which treats of the education 
of women, or of the civilization of mankind by means of mothers of 
families. And let me assure my young friends, that if they wish to 
have intelligent and well educated children, they must give them 
intelligent and well educated mothers. And what a recompense it 
was, that, at the close of a long life, the son remembers with grati- 



* YouDg Matbcw< hail a great desire to follow the profuBsion of medicine, but in this with 
he wns ovcrrulid l>y his rnthor, whoM disrerning mind perceived that his son's character waa 
liottor adnptcil to (ho proreasioo of law. He altvayi. howovnr, hnd n |;roat fondness for modi- 

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gratitude and tenderness the benefits and instruction he received from 
his mother. It is only to our children we can pay the debt we owe 
to our parents. 

But if his mother was distinguished for the excellencies and proper 
qualities of a woman and a mother, his father was not less distin- 
guished for his heroic virtues as a patriot, his lofty character and 
services as a citizen, and his sound judgment and excellent sense as 
a man. 

We have seen that Colonel Mathews was engaged in the campaign 
against the Indians, which terminated in that battle, memorable in 
our frontier warfare, at the mouth of the Kenhawa, which entirely 
broke the power of the savage tribes, at the time that the subject of 
our discourse was born. Nor did his services end with this event. 
His valor and skill as a military man were duly appreciated by his 
fellow-citizens. He was placed at the head of a regiment of the 
Virginia line, in our revolutionary struggle with Great Britain, and 
largely did he share in the danger and glory of that mighty under- 
taking. It is told of him, in history, that he acted a distinguished 
part on the occasion of the battle of Germantown, when our great 
commander attacked the British army. The attack was made early 
in the morning — the battle ground consisted of fields intersected with 
fences and stone walls — there was a dense fog. When the order of 
attack was given. Colonel Mathews, at the head of his regiment, 
made a furious onset over ground entangled with fences, and forced 
the British lines. One part of the American army fell into some 
confusion, which prevented a complete victory, and an order to 
retreat was given. 

Colonel Mathews either did not receive the order to retreat, or in 
the obscurity of the fog, and led on by the fury of his charge, 
advanced so far beyond the American line, as to get in the rear of 
the British army — and there he was left, cut off from his compatriots, 
when the American army retired. On this occasion he was taken 
prisoner. 

He was equally distinguished for his civic virtues and services. 
Not long after he removed to Georgia, he was elected governor of 
that State, and received the praise of being one of the best governors 



in the United Stales, from that most cynical of men, the celebrated 
John Randolph. 

Governor Mathews afterwanis removed to tlie neighborhocKJ of 
Natchez, in the territory of Mississippi where he afterwards died at 
an advanced ago. 

From such ancestors was descended the late Jiidg-e Mathews — ;nid 
if it be not altoq-ether true, that virtues and vices are hereditary, yet 
1 (Vom a mother possessing so many excellent qualities, and a father 
so distinguished for his civil and military virtues, a son could not 
fail to derive sentiments and a character which would stamp him as 
a useful citizen. 

How strong is the incentive to virtue and honorable conduct, if we 
realized the effect of example on our children, and would entertain 
no sentiments, contract no habits, and connnit no actions which we 
do not wish our children to imitate. 

Another fact is important in the life of Judge Mathews. 1 have 
said that he continued his academiL-al pursuits till the age of twenty- 
[\ two, and was not admitted to the bar till he was twenty-five years 
} of age. I cannot but think that maturity of mind and body, before 
embarking in the pursuits of life, has a great tendency in forming a 
sound mind and character, and in giving solidity to the judgment 
and understanding. 

It is also to be observed, that Judge Mathews practised his profes- 
sion for a very short time. He nTis appointed a judge at the age 
of thirt}'. In ancient France, men were educated to the office of 
magistrates — and perhaps this i.s the best means of making good 
judges. Men who have been long engaged in the practice of the 
profession, unless they possess unusual candor of mind, identify 
themselves too much with their clients, acquire the habit of regarding 
only one side of a question, and hence are apt to loose sight of the 
abstract principles of justice — more especially men of great in- 
genuity, who delight more in tin- exercise of that ingenuity than in 
the perception of justice. Too often such men, even on the bench, 
display their ingenuity in supporting one side of a question, or in 
answering the arguments urged on the opposite side, rather than 
in analysing and weighing the principles of law and justice which 



ought to produce the decision. These false habits of mind are more 
easily avoided when the lawyer early becomes the judge. 

There are some men who seem naturally fitted and dastined by 
the constitution of their minds, for the station of judges. Men who 
possess great candor; in whom judgment is the predominating 
faculty; and to whom the pursuit and attainment of justice affords 
the highest mental gratification. Such appears to have been the 
character and constitution of mind of the late Judge Mathews. 

A review of the peculiar difficulties of the station he was so early 
called to fill, and the manner in which he acquitted himself of its 
duties, will make this manifest. Appointed at the age of thirty to 
discharge the duties of a judge, according to a system of law with 
which he could have had no previous acquaintance, a knowledge of 
which was locked up in languages, to which a man, inland bred, as 
he was, must have been a stranger, and on which even books were 
scarce, his mind must have been frequently thrown back upon itself 
in the decisions he was called upon to make. Notwithstanding these 
difficulties, the very able bar which had emigrated to Louisiana, from 
the east and from the west, and from across the ocean, attest the uni- 
form ability and correctness of his decisions, even in the early period 
of his magistracy. Let it be remembered, that he was appointed to 
preside over a people who were aliens to the government ; who felt 
uneasy at being transferred to a new sovereignty without their con- 
sent, and were jealous of strangers : that he had to administer justice 
under laws of Spanish and French origin and colonial legislation, 
and yet he succeeded in obtaining the confidence, esteem and respect 
of all classes. 

The period between the appointment of Judge Mathews and the 
adoption of the Constitution, and to the close of the war with 
England, mnst be an interesting one in the history of the feelings of 
the colonists of Louisiana ; and, with this period of time. Judge 
Mathews was intimately connected, visiting every part of the state in 
his circuits, and presenting a scene new to the people among whom 
it was acted. No one but a person who was an actcr can adequately 
describe it. My own arrival in the state was long subsequent to 
these events ; and the gentleman who addressed you in French, and 



who wns a jiarticipntor in tlu- events of that period, has given j'oii 
some account of it. iind of the share of Jiidiff Mathews in its 
occurrences. 

My personal acquaintance with Judge Mathews commenced in 
the year 1822, when I found him presiding in the Supreme Court 
of the state. He was then in the vigor of his facuhies, and in high 
physical health, and took upon him a full .share of the business of 
the court. He possessed great quickness of mind, readily seizing 
upon the difficulties and disputed points of a case. He was patient 
in listening to whatever could be urged in the way of arginnent or 
illustration, but his mind was too clear to be led away by sophistry 
or ingenuity. 

Judge Mathews was a great lover of justice; and if it was possible 
in any manner to reach the justice of a case without violating fixed 
principles of law, he would always do so. The nature of civil 
law jurisprudence requires of a judge to refer back to the principles 
of law applicable to the facts of the case, rather than rest the decision 
on precedents, or the authority of other decided cases; and this is 
surely the correct mode of administering justice where law is 
reduced to a science and its principles collected in elementary works ; 
for, if the cases are analogous, the principles invoked in the previous 
case ought alone to be the reason for deciding the subsequent ones. 
As a celebrated chancellor of England, having one of his own 
decisions pressed upon him as authority, exclaimed, " Do not tell me 
how I decided — tell me why I so decided." This species of juris- 
prudence, therefore, adjnirably suited the mind of Judge Mathe\vs, 
for the Civil Law is the very essence and source of equitable 
jurisprudence. 

If, by learning, be meant an original intimate acquaintance with 
all the books in his profession, Judge Mathews, no more than his 
distinguished protot3'pc, Judge Marshall, could be said to be a 
learned lawyer; but he possessed a perfect familiarity with elemen- 
tary writers, and having cmliodied the principles of the science of 
law with his own perception;^, it was not difficult for him to work 
out and deduce the proper result by the operations of his own mind, 
on the materials it posscesed ; and an early familiarity with the 
Latin language, and with French and Spanish afterwards acquired, 

2 



10 

enabled him, when his investigations called for their examination, 
to avail of the aid of the best writers in the original languages. 

The minds and professional character of judges and lawyers, may 
be divided into two different classes. There is one class who know 
the profession of law as a result of memory ; who store their minds 
Avith authorities, cases and dicta, and, when called to act in their pro- 
fession, rely on books, cases and authorities, and are nothing without 
them. They know law as the student learned mathematics, by com- 
mittmg Euclid to memory, without being able to explain the princi- 
ples on which any one proposition is demonstrated. Among this 
class of the profession may usually be ranked, those who have been 
deprived of an early regular education, or have taken up the profes- 
sion late in life, and also, those who are naturally deficient in the 
organ of intellectual system and arrangement. With this class of 
persons, law is not a system, but an undigested mass of particulars, 
without arrangement, connection, or dependence. 

There is another class who embody the principles of the science 
with their own perceptions, and mix them up with their elements of 
thought, and when called upon to give an opinion, their decisions 
are the results of the operations of their oaati minds. 

With the first class, law is an effort of memory of what has been 
said, written, or decided by others ; or, frequently, no more than a 
knowledge of the books which treat on the difl^erent subjects of the 
science: with the other class, law is an emanation of their OAvn 
minds, and they speak as being authorities themselves. 

Such was eminently the case with the late Chief Justice Marshall, 
whose decisions required no authorities to support them, and such 
also was the character of the judicial mind of the late Judge Mathews. 

Neither judges nor courts are infallible, but the character of mind 
of judges as well as their knowledge, has much effect on the general 
soundness and correctness of the conclusions at which they arrive. 

If we examine the decisions delivered by Judge Mathews, and 
which it must be considered were left principally to his OAvn investi- 
gation, it will be found that the decision is almost without exception, 
in accordance with sound reason, with law and with justice. 

In all the judgments delivered by him, the case is analysed with a 
view to exhibit the various relations of the rights of the parties, and 



II 

tJie decision is doduced like* :i inutlicinationi proposition, from llie 
n-latioii which those rights and dutii-s boar to each other. This 
decision was not 'delivered in a dry, hard and repulsive form — in 
which it was difficult to perceive the steps which let) from the 
premises to the conclusion. It was deduced in a clear, methodical 
and lucid manner, which was easily followed, and ended in giving 
satisfaction to the understanding. 

The composition of his decisions is neat and elegant — his 
language pure and correct — the sentences are well put together, and 
the style fluent, rising sometimes to a chastened eloquence, which 
is the only kind the decisions of a court admit of 

Judge Mathews possessed in an eminent degree that great essen- 
tial requisite quality in a judge, firm and unbending integrity, 
which drew to him the public confidence. It is wonderftil how 
much sound morality contributes to produce sound judgment and 
sound intellect. Whether in law, politics, legislation, or any other 
subject — the instinct, as some would call it, of an honest, uneducated 
:uid even ignorant man, will lead him to adopt right conclusions 
and opinions, whilst the intellect of the most educated and talented, 
when at all affected by interest or passion, will lead them astray on 
the plainest subjects. In this sense it is true that vox popi/li, est 
vox Dei. For although the people may be misled by passion and 
prejudice to commit rash actions, their ultimate opinions and conclu- 
sions are always right — for no personal interest warps and blinds 
their judgment and perceptions, as is too generally the case with 
those who assume to lead in life. 

To a mind not corroded by the passions, or harrassed by cares and 
disquietudes, the business of judging is not difTicult. The dilliculty 
is to find the man well educated in his profession, not goaded by 
ambition or the lust of wealth, free from cares, and willing to devote 
himself to serve the public in this capacity — and such a man is the 
highest gift of the providence of God to a people. In all these 
respects, as well as in the possession of a naturally sound jiidgnieiii 
and discriminating mind. Judge Mathews greatly excelled. He did 
not discover justice solely by the penetration of his mind, but also 
by a certain instinct, and his heart moved towards it as towards a 
beloved object The passion.^ which troubled others did not a fleet 



12 

him. Without ambition, he seemed wholly devoted to discharge 
the high functions of a minister of justice. 

To these admirable qualities as a judge, was united the most 
amiable exterior. The spirit of domination not reigning within 
him, did not manifest itself in Ixis deportment. His mildness, 
amiability and patience became the station of a judge, and sometimes 
a dryly humorous remark, relieved the heaviness of legal discussion. 

The members of the bar, will never forget that venerable and 
patriarchal head and countenance on which were depicted benevo- 
lence, intelligence and goodness — that patient attention, aided by a 
quick perception of the real points of controversy which was given 
to every one who addressed him. Every advocate felt that he was 
appealing for justice not only to the living oracle of law, but to the 
impersonation of justice herself In addition to these excellent 
qualities he presided with great dignity on the bench, and com- 
manded the respect of all Avho approached him.* 

Judge Mathews inherited but little property from his father, and 
his fortune, ample at the time of his decease, was the result of his 
economy and judicious management. He always lived in a retired 
manner, without any extravagance or ostentation, yet without de- 
nying himself any thing that his fortune enabled him to attain, or 
that his station required. Happy in his family, his whole life Avas 
accompanied by a prosperity of that moderate nature, Avhich, without 
dazzling the mind, or corrupting the heart, diffuses a pure and tran- 
quil feeling, which constitutes the happiness of the wise and the good. 
He was cheerful and lively in private life, and his conversation 
was tinged with a vem of humor which greatly enlivened his society. 

Such was the man whom it pleased Providence to send to pre- 
side over Louisiana in her infant condition, and such was the man 
who is felt to be an irreparable loss to the State. I fear that amidst 
the distractions and dissipations of active life, we do not sufficiently 
consider how great and good a man is lost to us. 

Let us pause, look around, and ask each other how many are 
there qualified to fill the important station lately occupied by Judge 

* In his personal appearance Judge Mathews was of the middle stature, and constitutionally 
disposed to corpulence, which even much exercise could not repress His countenance was 
always placid, witli a lurking expression of humor, indicating playfulness of mind, and a dis- 
jjosition to rej)arlec, and many excellent ones arc told of him. 



Mathews, so honorably tu liimsuU', so usefully lo ihf public. How 
many are there in whose integrity, talents, honor and knowledge, 
the citizens of Louisiana will repose with the same confidence the 
high duties of administering justice in the last resort, as they fell in 
Judge Mathews. In whom will be found united the same capacity, 
soundness of judgment, talents, purity of character, amiability of dis- 
position, simplicity of life and venerable aspect. 

'i'he duties of a judq-e are those of painful responsibility, even 
when supported by a consciousness of rendering great public service. 
It is his duty as a minister of justice, to look to the God of Justice 
for guidance, direction and assistance. It has been well said, Judi- 
carc est orare, that to judge is to pray, for there ought to rest upon 
the mind a solemn religious sense of duty, in meting out justice 
among our fellow men. It is an awful and responsible duty, and 
those who most feel its responsibility, least aspire to court its labors. 
Yes, fellow-citizens, the station and office of a Judge of the Supremo 
Court, of a court of last resort, is, in any country, an honorable, 
an important, and a difficult station. It is emphatically and pecu- 
liarly so in Louisiana. The Court is entrusted with a revision of 
the rights of parties, not only on all branches of the law, but also as 
to questions of fact, and in the complication and conflict of Spanish, 
French, English and American law, and by reason of the various 
legislative enactments, to modify and adapt them to our political 
and social institutions and feelings, much delicate responsibility, and 
great extent of power have devolved on the judiciary — and in that 
branch of the administration of the govermnent, it was and is pecu- 
liarly necessary to have honorable, upright and inflexible men, in 
whose judgment, capacity, integrity and power of discrimination, his 
fellow-citizens should repose with implicit confidence. If the pub- 
lic do not repose with confidence in the integrity, ability, virtue and 
character of the judges, there will exist a restlessness, a vague 
apprehension of evil, an uncertainty and discontent, which poisons 
and embitters the enjoyment of life — more particularly with a 
people so sensible of and justly valueing their personal, political and 
social rights, as are the citizens of republican America. 

It is this confidence and the consciousness of usefuhiess, and not 
the slender compensation, which rewards the judge and sustains him 



14 

under his load of labor and responsibility. How important then is 
a just discharge of the duties of this high station. How important 
that the persons who fill it should possess the public confidence. 
How transcendently honorable and praiseworthy must be the life 
aud character of that man, who, on closing a career of thirty years 
in such a station, receives the unanimous approbation, commendation 
and regret of his fellow-citizens of all classes, ranks and parties, 
among a population composed of the descendants of the nations of 
France and Spain, and of emigrants from every state in the Union. 
The regret felt on the tidings of the decease of the late Judge 
Mathews, manifested how fully his character and conduct received 
the general approbation — the approbation of all Louisiana. It was 
the regret of the fathers of the land for a brother — a man whom 
they had kno"\vn from early youth — whose virtues and character 
Avere their study for the whole of a past age. It was the grief of the 
men of active life at the loss of a friend — of a counsellor of the state. 
It was the grief of those just entering life at the loss of a father — a 
guide and an example. It was the grief of the whole community at 
the loss of an honorable and upright magistrate. 

Truly and eloquently is it expressed in the resolutions passed by 
the members of the bar, " That they deeply deplore the death of the 
Honorable George Mathews, late presiding judge of the Supreme 
Court of this state. 

'' That they consider, that in him society has lost a virtuous citizen, 
the state an able and upright judge, and the profession one of its 
brightest ornaments ; and that the rectitude and ability with which, 
during a long series of years, the deceased has discharged the arduous 
duties of the most important and responsible station known to a 
republican government, entitle his memory to the respect and 
veneration of his countrymen." 

Upon this review of the life and character of Judge Mathews, 1 
proceed to pass a judgment which will be confirmed by this assem- 
bly, and by all Louisiana, — that the name and reputation of Judge 
Mathews shall pass down with the early history of the state, as of 
one beloved for his virtues as a man, honored for his services as a 
citizen, and distinguished and revered for his talents, integrity, judg- 
ment and usefulness as a magistrate. That ho possessed the 



15 

unbounded respect, esteem, confidence and veneration of Ijouisiana, 
during his life, and the heartfelt regret and grief of his fellow-citizens 
were testified at his death. 

May this feeble portrait and testimony to his life and character, 
serve as an incentive to us and our children to love, respect and 
revere the name of Judge Mathpws, and, above all, to imitate his 
virtues. That although all cannot attain to the same degree of dis- 
tinction and usefulness, yet every one may possess the conscious 
satisfaction of having in his day and generation, and to the extent of 
his talents and opportunities, deserved well of the Republic* 

* Judge Matlicwg was twice married ; first to Sarali Carpenter, of the Territory of Misaig- 
sipjii, ill 1808, of which marriage only one child survived, now the wife of Cuptain William 
H. Chocc, of the United States Knginecra ; and a second time to Harriet Flower, of which 
marriage only one child, a boy of twelve years of ago, survived. A few doys before tbo 
decease of Judge Mathew6, this youth received the contents of his own gun in his right arm 
by imprudently thrusting the butt of the gun into the bushes to frighten out the game. It 
was at first apprehended he would lose the arm, but this misfortuno was avoided. This 
nrcidcnt never came to the knowledge of his father. 



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